Blancpain GT Series, Round 6, Endurance Cup, Paul Ricard – Race:
Jake Dennis scored a sixth place finish in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup six-hour, 1000 Kilometres of Paul Ricard in a race of attrition as leading cars fell away in the final hour.
The night race, run in preparation for the series’ next round, the 24 Hours of Spa, was settled in the final hour as the #17 Team WRT Audi R8 LMS of Dennis and team-mates Stuart Leonard and Robin Frijns filed up the order thanks to a storming final stint from Dutchman Frijns.
The race was another one to forget for fellow Racing Steps Foundation-backed Ben Barnicoat however, as mechanical woes in the opening hour hit the #58 Strakka Racing-run McLaren 650 S he shares with team-mates Rob Bell and Côme Ledogar.
Dennis began the race in the #17 Audi R8 LMS and was soon in the middle of the action, attempting to move up the inside of the #50 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 of Pasin Lathouras at the end of the long straight, Turn 10 on lap six. With another Ferrari looking to also overtake on the outside, Dennis and Lathouras made contact with the Ferrari spinning off the track and Dennis moving up to 14th position.
Following a stewards’ investigation into the incident, no further action was deemed necessary.
“I was on the inside line and pulled back over to the racing line while leaving one car length,” Dennis reflected, “but we made slight contact just before turning in. I didn’t deem it as serious, and neither did the stewards’ who didn’t take any action.”
On lap 15, a Full Course Yellow and safety car prompted some cars include Dennis to pit and switch for team-mate Stuart Leonard to take the wheel.
On the restart, with cars ahead finally making their first pit stop under green flag conditions, Leonard moved up to 14th position before the #7 Bentley Continental GT3 hit trouble, promoting Leonard with under 90 minutes complete.
Barnicoat was unable to take any part in the race, with team-mate Rob Bell taking the opening stint from 31st place. But following a start in which Bell made a good getaway before falling backwards, Bell opted not to pit under the lap 15 safety car. Upon the restart however, he was forced to pit and retire.
“The front floor of the car came off and the team wasn’t able to repair it quickly enough, so opted to withdraw the car,” Barnicoat said. “I’m gutted. The Balance of Performance and our attempts to adjust to this year’s Pirelli tyres are our main issues. But Strakka is doing its upmost to turn this around. We sadly just don’t have a quick enough package.
“It’s disappointing that we’ve not been able to practice night-time driving ahead of the next round, the 24 Hours of Spa, but I will just have to do what I can.”
Leonard made his way up to 10th before pitting for Dennis to return to the car with an hour and 40 minutes complete, returning to the track in 15th position and climbed to 13th as cars ahead sustained damage.
“I had good pace at the start of my second stint, but then struggled with tyre degredation towards the end,” Dennis said. “But I kept on battling and brought the car back in a promising position.”
With the leading cars making their pit stops past the two-hour mark, Dennis was promoted back up to 10th position, battling throughout his second stint to bring the car back into the pits with two hours and 15 minutes complete, in ninth spot.
Leonard took to the wheel once again, returning to the track in 13th position. Following contact, he struggled throughout the remainder of the stint, dropping to 17th position and being caught by the fellow Team WRT #6 car of Nathanael Berthon.
With just over two hours remaining, Robin Frijns replaced Leonard for his first and only stint in the car, returning in 12th position by 39 seconds behind the fellow Team WRT #2 Audi R8 LMS of Pieter Schothorst.
Frijns was on a mission to scythe into Schothorst’s advantage, and with 90 minutes remaining, had reduced the gap to just 13 seconds when both he and Schothorst pitted on the same lap having moved up to 11th position following the #84 Team HTP Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Franck Perera stopped on track with mechanical woes.
With the #50 AF Corse Ferrari 488 hitting trouble and limping back into the pits with exactly an hour remaining, Frijns had worked his way into 10th position, only four seconds behind Schothorst’s team-mate Christopher Mies who replaced the Dutchman in the #2 Audi.
With less than 40 minutes remaining, Mies’ margin had been slashed to just 0.3 seconds and Frijns swiftly made his way past the fellow Audi into eighth position.
With the once-leading #4 Team Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 machine of Luca Stolz crawling back into the pit lane with 30 minutes remaining, Frijns made up a further spot into seventh and was swiftly hunting down the ISR-run Audi R8 LMS of Filip Salaquarda which held an eight-second advantage.
With less than five minutes remaining, Salaquarda heeded to Frijns’ pressure to relinquish sixth place, but with the RJN Nissan of Alex Buncombe a further 22 seconds up the road, Frijns ran out of time to further threaten the top order but came home in an excellent sixth position.
“I’m pretty happy with the result,” Dennis declared. “Robin did a mega job in the final two hours to get us back into the points. It gives us some positive momentum heading into the 24 Hours of Spa, and I’m looking forward to chasing further points.”
The #8 M-Sport Bentley Continental of Andy Soucek/Maxime Soulet and Vincent Abril scored outright victory almost 30 seconds ahead of the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 machine of Victor Shaytar/Miguel Molina/Davide Rigon.
The Team WRT squad was represented on the podium with the #1 Audi R8 LMS shared by Antonio Garcia/Nico Müller/Rene Rast claiming third position.
|Circuit Automobile Paul Ricard (5.861km / 3.642 miles): Race result (Top 10)|
|Pos||Driver||Team||Car||Time / Gap|
|1||Soucek / Soulet / Abril||Team M-Sport||Bentley Continental GT3||6h 01m 17.768s|
|2||Shayter / Molina / Rigon||SMP Racing||Ferrari 488 GT3||+29.272s|
|3||Garcia / Müller / Rast||Audi Sport Team WRT||Audi R8 LMS||+1m 19.230s|
|4||Serralles / Van Der Zande / Juncadella||Akka ASP||Mercedes-AMG GT3||+1m 22.658s|
|5||Ordonez / Buncombe / Chiyo||Team RJN Nissan||Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3||+1m 37.964s|
|6||Leonard / Dennis / Frijns||Team WRT||Audi R8 LMS||+1m 55.276s|
|7||Albuquerque / Schmid / Salaquarda||ISR||Audi R8 LMS||+1m 56.528s|
|8||Schothorst / Vervisch / Mies||Team WRT||Audi R8 LMS||+1 lap|
|9||Haase / Winkelhock / Terting||Team Sainteloc||Audi R8 LMS||+1 lap|
|10||Mortara / Meadows / Marciello||Akka ASP||Mercedes-AMG GT3||+1 lap|
|Conditions: Sunny to Dark/Hot to Warm/Dry|
|Drivers’ championship standings (top 10):|
|1||Mirko Bortolotti (ITA)||86|
|1||Christian Engelhart (GER)||86|
|2||Maximilian Buhk (GER)||82|
|2||Franck Perera (FRA)||82|
|3||Vincent Abril (MCO)||74|
|4||Andrea Caldarelli (ITA)||50|
|5||Stuart Leonard (GBR)||50|
|6||Robin Frijns (NLD)||50|
|7||Jimmy Eriksson (SWE)||48|
|8||Markus Winkelhock (GER)||46|
|9||Will Stevens (GBR)||44|
|10||Maxime Soulet (BEL)||43|
Free practice: Barnicoat/Bell/Ledogar 57th, 2m 02.005s, +3.563s; Leonard/Dennis/Frijns 22nd, 1m 59.567s, +1.125s. Qualifying: Barnicoat/Bell/Ledogar 31st, 1m 57.666s, +1.224s; Leonard/Dennis/Frijns 13th, 1m 59.217s, +0.775s. Race: Barnicoat/Bell/Ledogar DNF; Leonard/Dennis/Frijns 6th, +1m 55.276s
Photo: Patrick Hecq / Team WRT. Copyright-free Racing Steps Foundation images are available from the RSF Image Bank at www.jakobebrey.com/rsf